I sit at my desk the proud and beaming owner of a yearlong membership to Samba Paraiso.
After at least two years of intending to start and two recent weeks of very nearly, almost going, I finally went to my first Samba class this evening.
It. Was. Immense.
And I have to admit I’m left thinking why exactly didn’t I do this sooner?
Samba Paraiso, or the Paraíso School of Samba to give it it’s full title and accenture, is the largest Brazilian-run Samba outfit in the UK.
They organise dance workshops, drumming classes, and parade in the Notting Hill Carnival every year. And just so you know, as regards all the above I fully intend to have my cake and eat it too.
Just a first taste of the Samba class this evening was enough to convince me that signing my name on the dotted line was definitely the way to go. It’s gluttony from hereon in.
The Samba class on Thursday is held at the Brixton Recreation Centre and kicks off at 8pm. As we arrived and the previous aerobics, spinning, zumba or whatever the heck Spandex-bound class it was was wrapping up, there was already a fantastic, infectious vibe among the waiting sambistas.
And as we were waiting I realised that in our midst was none other than Irlan Silva, the Brazilian ballet dancer who was the star of the docu-film Only When I Dance. Awesome, but ever so slightly daunting.
Once inside, we quickly got to stretching, whereupon I realised that wearing skinny jeans was not my brightest idea ever, But such dullness was more than made up for by the lurid flourescene of my luminous fuschia (not pink!) Nike high tops. Represent!
But any embarrassing attention I might have been drawing to myself was quickly taken away by Oli’s woefully comical efforts to simply touch his toes. God Bless that boy, he is ever the faithful wingman.
After the neck-rolling and toe-pointing we were divided into two groups: beginners (cleary us) and intermediates (clearly the collection of students decked out in headbands, rolled up T-shirts and shorn-off leggings on the other side of the room).
In the beginners group we were led by Jayeola, who possessed that fantastic womanly gift of being able to dislocate her arse from her waist and then send her arse off on its own little round trip.
Not having a male teacher to show us how we might best employ our more humble derrieres, Oli and I did the same. We shook that junk in our trunk for all it was worth. Being junk, and being our junk at that, I doubt that was all that much.
The whole thing was dizzy-making, non-stop, high-occtane and other exciting compound adjectives. It was a sweat-fest, but it was also a complete festival of sounds.
Unlike your normal dance class we weren’t clumping along to the tinny tunes of some flea market radio in the corner. Instead, our writhing waists and our flying feet had the rythmic accompaniment of a live Samba percussion band.
I can’t even tell you how much I love that music.
It’s so elemental and primal. It speaks to gut. It sings.
The pace of the drums picks up, the bass deepens and the whole beat seems to spiral almost uncontrollably towards some surely maniacal crescendo – and I just let go.
And then suddenly the steps fall into place.
Steps that just before you could only guess at, desperately following the person in front of you, who themselves is mimicking the person in front of them who’s trying, trying ever so hard, to keep pace and time with the teacher.
But when you do get it and you sync with the rhythm sent by the drums, it works. It just works. And it feels bloody amazing!
Once the lesson was over we all joined up again – the motley and the Flashdance – and we formed a sort of Conga line samba-ing around the room – throwing smiles and crazy shapes at each other. Just loose and free.
Afterwards I was totally wiped out but I tell you, you couldn’t have wiped the smile from my face for love nor money. It was that enduring a feeling.
So, now armed with my yearlong membership I’ll be back next Thursday and before that Wednesday holds my first drumming class, which I’m also ridiculously excited about.
The climax of course will be when I put this all into practice and parade in the Notting Hill Carnival in August.
All I can say is Carnival get ready, cos I’m coming. And I’m gonna be fire!
As a sort of addendum to this post, but an important one: I emailed a great friend of mine when I got back home after my class, she knows a lot about dance and what it is to feel that unfettered freedom. She responded with this poem. Somehow I feel there could hardly be a better response to my experience of this evening:I feel free
I desire and thrill
I emerge, I am flesh and not only
I contain -myself in- my breath
I tremble, no fear, no
I tremble, you’re near,
I stumble -on a tear-
I dance and touch with-in you, not lonely.
a dance and paradise.